Paul Krugman Joins Team Density

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has a very, very big brain. I’ve long appreciated his relentless voice of sanity in political and economic matters. In his latest column he moves outside his usual realm and totally nails it on urban density and car-dependence. Choice sentence:

“Changing the geography of American metropolitan areas will be hard.”

Yup. Uh-huh. Dang.

Interesting how Krugman doesn’t even mention greenhouse gas emissions. Likely a tactic to keep the argument from being muddied by the various stigmas of global warming. He’s an economist after all, and his focus is on what happens when oil becomes unaffordable.

Krugman’s description of the Berlin neighborhood consisting mainly of four and five story apartments further congeals a thought that’s been knocking around my head lately: that ultimately the sustainable urban form of the future will be midrise. In this spicy essay on localism, James Howard Kunstler quips that “skyscrapers are an endangered species,” basically because they are too energy intensive. Midrise (4 to 6 stories) is relatively cheap to build, doesn’t necessarily need elevators, has an agreeable urban form, and can achieve high density (if there are enough of them). Maybe I should shut up about upzoning for taller buildings.  But then again, to achieve viable densities in Seattle with midrise we’d have to take out a whole lot of single family, which isn’t likely to happen any time soon.